-By Scott Keyes
December 20, 2011- Late last week, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced a bill to restore voting rights for citizens convicted of a felony after they complete their sentence.
Currently, four states — Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia — permanently disenfranchise any resident convicted of a felony, even after he or she has been released from prison. Another seven states — Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wyoming — permanently disenfranchise people convicted of certain felonies.
If passed, the Democracy Restoration Act would restore voting rights to felons who have finished serving their sentence. Cardin explained the rationale for his bill in a press release Friday:
If we truly want to break the cycle of recidivism, we need to reintegrate former prisoners back into society. When prisoners are released, they are expected to obey the law, get a job, and pay taxes as they are rehabilitated and reintegrated into their community. With these responsibilities and obligations of citizenship should also come the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote.
Felon disenfranchisement is an issue that disproportionately affects African Americans. Of the more than two million Americans barred from voting despite finishing their felony sentence, the ACLU notes that 1.4 million – 70 percent – are black. This is acutely true in states like Virginia, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama, where African Americans make up a substantial portion of the voting electorate, yet their power is diminished by state disenfranchisement laws.
Cardin’s bill, which has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, is co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).